Monday, March 21, 2016

Miracles from Heaven [2016]

MPAA (PG)  CNS/USCCB (A-II) (3 Stars)  Fr. Dennis (3 3/4 Stars)

IMDb listing
CNS/USCCB (J. Mulderig) review (C. Lemire) review

People Magazine (D. Atlas) article about making of film 

Miracles from Heaven [2016] (directed by Patricia Riggen, adaptation by Randy Brown based on the memoir [GR] [WCat] [Amzn] by Christy Beam [GR] [WCat] [Amzn] [IMDb]) is BY FAR the BEST RELIGIOUS BASED OFFERING to come out in theaters in the United States this Lent. 

The book / film tell the story of Annabel Beam (played in the film by Kylie Rogers), the 9 year old middle daughter of Christy and Kevin Beam (played in film by Jennifer Garner and Martin Henderson), Annabel's two sisters being 12-13 y.o. Abbie and 6 y.o Adelynn (played by Brighton Sharbino and Courtney Fansler).  The acting of all of them is truly of top-quality.

At eight, Annabel quite suddenly had fallen ill with pseudo-obstruction motility disorder, an extremely rare illness in which the nerves that tell the intestine to push food down itself stop firing properly thereby making it impossible for food to digest properly and causing de facto obstructions of undigested food in the intestinal tract.  Due to the rarity of the incidence of this illness, the doctors at the local hospitals (in and around Dallas, TX outside of which the family lived) initially didn't understand what was happening to Annabel.  So they kept misdiagnosing her incessant vomiting / inability to keep food down, to more common (if perhaps particularly manifestations of) conditions like lactose intolerance and/or acid reflux disorder.  Eventually, the doctors figured out what was going on with Annabel.  However, due to the rarity of the disorder, the acknowledged expert on this disorder was a Dr. Nurko (played by Eugenio Derbez) who practiced out of Boston Children's Hospital nearly 1000 miles away. 

So the family had to figure out a way to get their sick child to Boston, first for once every six weeks visits and later (as she was _not_ getting better) for increasingly extended periods there.  The family portrayed lived on a small ranch, so it was _not_ poor.  However, any adult watching the film would _quickly appreciate_ the mounting and eventually back-breaking expenses involved.

Since this was a family story, some of the _best scenes_ involve the children, notably:

(1) When the family still believed that Annabel could be suffering for some sort of extreme case of lactose intolerance, older sister Abbie volunteered to not eat pizza anymore in solidarity with Annabel.  Mom and dad quickly followed suit.  Poor six year old Adelynn WHO HAD JUST STARTED TO KNOW / AND _REALLY LIKE_ PIZZA initially didn't really want to go along.  "Why mommy?  It's good." (and couldn't slightly older sis Annabel just eat something else ;-).  But eventually, she reluctantly "went along" AND ONE JUST WANTED TO CRY.  _I_ honestly can't imagine childhood here _without pizza_.  Yes, it's such "a small thing" but _also_ such a big one as well.

(2) After dad took a second job to help pay for mom's and Annabel's stays / travel expenses in Boston, he forgot one time to take older daughtr Abbie to some soccer exposition (involving apparently several members of the U.S. National Women's team passing through Dallas).  Yes, on one level it may seem "trivial" but to a 13 year old _with her own dreams_ it mattered.  Again, ONE JUST WANTS TO CRY.

Eventually with Annabel NOT getting better and herself _getting tired of being sick and getting worse_ the decision is made to just bring her back home to Dallas (for a de facto hospice like situation).  It's then when she had that incident with the tree -- falling 30 feet down from said tree, hitting her head and "not dying, not becoming paralyzed but instead (quite miraculously or "miraculously" DOESN'T MATTER) becoming healed" -- those nerves to her intestines that were misfiring SUDDENLY started firing correctly again.

Yes, she had an out-of-body / near-death experience in which she said she met God who told her that she'll be fine from now but that she needed to go back.  Again, Viewers can interpret this however they want, STILL, REMEMBER, SHE GOT BETTER... after that _crazy_ fall.

And the film is actually _extremely_ good in acknowledging the obvious: Many, many kids / other people SUFFERING TERRIBLY _DON'T_ GET BETTER.

But the message here is OF HOPE -- that LIFE DOES NOT END HERE ... that there is a vivid paradise that awaits us on the other side, and that ABOVE ALL THAT WE ARE NOT ALONE, that God _does care_ and is indeed with us and is there, on other side, awaiting us.

 It's just a very, very nice and hopeful film and a story that deserves to be shared.



The _only_ reason why I am not giving this film a four star rating is on account of a single scene involving Queen Latifah, who plays a Boston area waitress named Angela.  In the film, Angela befriends Annabel and mom Christy and offers to show the two around her beloved Boston with a personal tour.  Christy first did not want to accept the offer but on insistence of Annabel agreed.  Christy becomes more skeptical when Angela comes to pick them up in a _really broken down car_with all sorts of stuff in the back seat, etc. 

I FOUND THAT SCENE UNFORTUNATE for the same reason as I found similar scenes in another nominally Christian film called War Room [2015] unfortunate.

Even though in the case here, Queen Latifah herself (a fairly known / powerful actress) clearly chose to play the car scene the way it played, I SIMPLY CAN'T BELIEVE THAT A WHITE ACTRESS WOULD ALLOW HERSELF TO BE PORTRAYED IN SUCH A SLOPPY WAY. 

A _lot of white viewers_ (nominally Christian or non) will view that car scene and see it as confirming stereotypes of African Americans as somehow being "less clean" than white people. 

AND I CAN ABSOLUTELY ATTEST THAT THIS IS SIMPLY _NOT_ THE CASE.  I HAVE KNOWN BOTH AFRICAN AMERICANS AND HAITIANS AS WELL AS JAMAICANS whose dress, houses and cars are EVER in _immaculate order_, while there are plenty of whites who are slobs.

 I don't want to belabor the point except to say that I found that scene _unfortunate_ and that is the reason why I did not give the film a four star rating, which I otherwise would have given it.

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